No one, as far as I recall, died from tanim-bala in NAIA, and yet it infuriated many of us,and we were angered by an apparent scam condoned or perhaps even operated by airport officials. Many were mad at President Aquino, too, for gaffes made by some government officials and by government inaction that was affecting Filipino travellers and migrant workers. But since July, hundreds have already been killed due to the so-called war on drugs and crime, with most deaths appearing on TV or our FB timelines in the same sickening narrative: killed by hitmen, their bodies wrapped in garbage bags or paper with a cardboard that says the victim is a drug offender, or killed by policemen in a buy-bust operation or inside police stations, where the police had to fire and kill them because they were fighting back or because they tried to grab arms from the police while in custody.And yet the same public outraged by tanim-bala is silent this time, despite the deaths. Hindi lang sa hindi galit, we are actually happy to repeat and mimic the stories given by government officials – Pusher kasi. Adik. Nang-agaw ng baril sa pulis sa presinto. Nanlaban. Kung hindi sya adik, bakit sya kasama ng pusher?
And we’re happy to exempt the government of any responsibility of this incident. When Abaya said that tanim-bala was being blown out of proportion, many called for his resignation, many blamed PNoy. But with what’s happening, Duterte or PNP Chief Bato can’t be faulted – even though Duterte promised this bloodshed during the campaign period, or that, after the inauguration, he said shabu addicts should be killed, and that local governments and local police should deliver dead bodies in his war on drugs. Bato said he’s against extrajudicial killings, and yet he’s not doing anything to stop it – but it doesn’t matter, not his fault. Tanim-bala is PNoy’s fault, but we have wired our minds to believe that Duterte can’t be blamed for the killings terrorising the Philippines these days. Never mind that, regardless of who you voted for last May, the government should always be held accountable for omission if it fails to address human rights violations.
I actually don’t care who you voted for last May. What I wish to understand at this point is if your silence demonstrates the limits of our common sense, of our respect for life, or of our world-renown sense of compassion. Are we not outraged, and are we willing to exempt the government of any responsibility, because those who were killed are impoverished – not exactly the type who’d have credit cards to purchase piso-fare trips and therefore unlikely to be inconvenienced by tanim-bala? Is it because we also blame the poor for the ugliness in our daily lives, for the systemic poverty and crime that fester in our streets, and therefore killing these vagrants is better? Is it because we think that some lives do not really matter, and that we’re happy to give those with guns a blank check just to make us perceive that we are safe and secure?
I hear no one saying that they feel more secure and safe these days, these days when tanim-bala is no longer happening. For me, my sense of insecurity isn’t just about safety in our streets: mas nababahala ako dun sa naiisip ko na may aspeto ng pagiging Pilipino na hindi ko kilala, yung aspeto na kayang lunukin at tanggapin ang nangyayari ngayon. That we can even throw out our sense of justice and respect for life and be wilfully blind. I try to recall some words that have helped define my own understanding of what being Filipino means. That the Filipino is worth dying for. Ang mamatay ng dahil sa’yo. Maybe by reminding myself of these words, I’d feel less insecure and disturbed by this realisation: na kaya pala natin itong gawin sa isa’t-isa.
(Photo from Mark Z. Saludes: Jennelyn Olaires refuses to let go of her husband, Michael Siaron, a 30-year-old pedicab driver and an alleged drug offender who was gunned down by unidentified assailants along EDSA – Pasay Rotonda area in Pasay City, July 23.)